Resiliency and self-regulation are two learning skills that have recently taken the spotlight in education circles. Questions have arisen as to whether schools provide too much of a safety net for kids and whether this extended safety net is actually proving detrimental to the personal and academic growth of kids.
I just recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”. The major premise of his book is that there is an inverted U-shaped curve when it comes to the benefits of interventions or advantages. Certain traits or interventions bring benefits but there is a limit to those benefits. When there is too much of a certain trait or intervention, those interventions can actually begin to undo the benefits that they are intended to bring. One education-related example Gladwell uses concerns class sizes. Smaller class sizes are advantageous to student learning when class sizes are reduced from 40 to 25. This intervention allows the teacher to spend more time with each individual student to support individual student learning needs. However, if classes are too small, the intervention of reducing class sizes actually makes the learning environment worse off as there isn’t enough diversity of thought or diversity of student connections and relationships.
Is that what is happening with resilience and self-regulation? Have we as a system provided our kids with too much intervention to the point where they are too dependant on the safety nets put in place for them? Take a look at this experiment taking place at one school in New Zealand. The school is experimenting with removing some of the standard rules used during recess time – the intent is to add more risk to student play. According to this news article, kids are becoming more creative and inventive in their play. The news article also states that students are more focused when returning back into the classroom after recess. The premise presented is that by reintroducing the element of risk during recess play, kids learn to be more self-reliant while at the same time, allowing them free reign on their creativity of play.
Another plea to add more academic risk in learning can be found in this interview with inventor James Dyson . The interview focuses on the need for schools to let kids fail. Valuable lessons are learned when kids make mistakes and by not allowing kids to make those mistakes, we do not allow them to learn this important skill of how to learn from failure.
When in conversation about the state of the school system, I often hear people share their opinions on what school was like “in the olden days”, how “we turned out alright” and how “the pendulum has swung too far the other way and we need to find a middle ground between how things were and how things are”. Maybe that is what this focus on resiliency and self-regulation is all about. The difficulty, in my view, is that so much has been invested in providing a wide reaching safety net for kids that it may be difficult to restrain the scope of that safety net. The other difficulty has to do with societal norms and beliefs. The prevailing opinion is that it is the responsibility of schools to improve student achievement. While I am in agreement, in maintaining that view, we often forget about the role the child has to play in taking responsibility in improving their own achievement.
The old adage of ‘you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ applies here. School systems must continue to do whatever possible to support student achievement but part of that support is to give kids the appropriate level of responsibility to improve their own achievement. In the case of the school in New Zealand, supporting student achievement means removing some of the interventions to allow kids to experiment by adding some risk to their play. In the case of the argument made by James Dyson, supporting student achievement means shrinking the academic safety net and allow kids to fail so that we also allow them to develop the important skill of learning from their mistakes.
If Malcolm Gladwell is correct and too many interventions can actually reduce the effectiveness of the intervention, then adding an intervention to support resiliency and self-regulation may make kids less resilient and less able to self-regulate. Again, if Malcolm Gladwell is correct, then perhaps shrinking the academic safety net and allow for more academic risk will help to push students to achieve new academic highs.
It will be interesting to watch this issue develop.